When three new hotels with a combined key count of 1440 opened on Al Marjan Island in 2014, Ras Al Khaimah’s new resort destination came to life. Indeed, developers hope to see the area grow substantially in the next few years as a mixed development of holiday homes, restaurants, bars, marinas and up to 20 hotels that will together make a significant contribution to the emirate’s economy and change the shape of its hospitality sector.
The first hotel to open on the islands, in January 2014, was the DoubleTree by Hilton Resort and Spa with 484 keys. The facility is situated on what is known as Breeze Island, a manmade peninsula that carries the road connecting the remaining three islands: Treasure Island, which curves around a cove facing the shore; Dream Island, which is to the north and adjacent to the beaches of Al Hamra; and View Island, a circular islet facing out into the Gulf. A month after the DoubleTree opened its doors, another hotel welcomed its first guests to Breeze Island and in doing so brought a new approach to the hospitality sector. Rixos Bab Al Bahr has more keys than any other establishment in the emirate, with 650 rooms, and is also RAK’s first “ultra-all-inclusive” destination. The hotel is run by the Turkish hospitality chain Rixos and is the newest foreign operator.
The third hotel to open was on the next island in the chain, Treasure Island. The alcohol-free Marjan Island Resort and Spa opened its first 100 rooms in March 2014, and the remaining 201 rooms in July of that year. The master developers of the islands reported that 100,000 people visited Al Marjan hotels between January and August 2014. “The good thing that happened was that we opened three hotels within two months of each other,” Roger Tannous, general manager of Marjan Resort and Spa, told OBG. “Alongside our marketing efforts, the Rixos and DoubleTree also generated their own publicity, and this has all helped raise the profile of the island.” A fourth hotel, the Santorini, run by UAE-based Bin Majid hotels, is due to open in 2015 on Treasure Island, with 410 rooms.
Some 250 villas will soon be added to the DoubleTree Resort and Spa Marjan Island, served by their own gym, spa and restaurant, according to Mohab Ghali, RAK country manager for Hilton Worldwide, with much of the infrastructure for this already in place. The development is also being designed to appeal to younger generations. “One of the key components that needs to be mentioned is how we are actively targeting millennials,” Haitham Mattar, CEO of the RAK Tourism Development Authority, told OBG. “One of the four islands sharply focuses on lifestyle, adventure, fun and celebrations, and what we are seeing is a great interest from investors and hotel brands.”
The Al Marjan Island developments are closer than any of RAK’s other resorts to UAE’s three biggest airports. This could have significant implications, as Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s facilities have embarked on expansion plans that will see their passenger capacity almost quadruple in the next few years. In 2014 Dubai International was the world’s busiest international airport, with 70.5m passengers, Abu Dhabi handled 20m and in its first year of accepting passengers Dubai’s second airport, Al Maktoum International, saw 845,000. By 2020 Dubai International is aiming for 100m and Abu Dhabi International for 40m. Both ambitions are dwarfed by Dubai Al Maktoum, which has launched a $32bn extension plan that will give it a capacity of 220m passengers per year by around 2030. As a result, within 10 years the UAE’s three main airports could be seeing 360m airline passengers a year. In one telling sign, Qatar Airways announced in May 2015 plans to launch direct flight services to RAK the following October.